Publisher’s Weekly Best Middle Grade & YA Books

PW has released their list of the top books of the year for children and teens. The list includes the top 50 books out of the 1700 books reviewed in PW this year. Here are the top picks for Middle Grade and YA readers:


Amal Unbound The Book of Boy

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Dactyl Hill Squad Front Desk

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose Older

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings

Herstory: 50 Women and Girls Who Shook Up the World by Katherine Halligan, illustrated by Sarah Walsh

A History of Pictures for Children: From Cave Paintings to Computer Drawings by David Hockney and Martin Gayford, illustrated by Rose Blake

It Wasn't Me Merci Suárez Changes Gears

It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

The Parker Inheritance Sanity & Tallulah

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Sanity & Tallulah by Molly Brooks

Small Spaces Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor

We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson



The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge The Boneless Mercies

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)

Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Darius the Great Is Not Okay Dry

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Dry by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman

Hey, Kiddo The Light Between Worlds

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

On a Sunbeam The Poet X

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Pride The Prince and the Dressmaker

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Sadie A Thousand Beginnings and Endings

Sadie by Courtney Summers

A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman

Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1) The War Outside

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

The War Outside by Monica Hesse

A Winter's Promise (The Mirror Visitor)

A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos

Dumplin’ Movie Trailer

Oh my goodness, does this look good! So much better than Insatiable… What do you think?

Released on Netflix on December 7th.

Review: The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (9781328810151)

This graphic novel tells the stories of Syrian refugees in their own voices. Based on interviews and visits to refugee camps around the region, the book clearly tells the story of the basis of the refugee crisis in Syria. As the flood of refugees begins and then continues, the nations taking in the refugees see sentiments in their populations shift to be anti-immigrant due to the overwhelming costs and disruption. Still, the refugees need a place to live in peace, a place to make a home and a place to feel safe.

Brown returns with another gripping nonfiction graphic novel. He uses the refugees’ own stories to really create a book that is heart-wrenchingly realistic. Young readers will benefit from hearing how the crisis began and will learn a lot about refugees, the dangers they face and the risks they are willing to take for freedom. The art in the book is done in limited colors, often filled with sandy yellows and deep browns. The faces of the refugees are compellingly depicted, often with expressions of deep fear, loss and grief.

A strong and important look at the Syrian refugee crisis in a format that makes the content very readable. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Mirage by Somaiya Daud (9781250126429)

Amani is taken from her farming village to the center of the Vathek empire, the alien race that now rules their planet. She looks nearly identical to the half-Vathek princess, Maram. The princess is despised by everyone, including the courtiers that surround her and her own half-sibling. Amani is drawn cruelly into a world where her very survival depends on her being able to pretend to be a princess. The training in being a body double is precise and ruthless. As Amani begins to conform to the expectations, no one can take away her love of reading and poetry. But Amani doesn’t know who she can trust in a world built on deceit and blood.

Daud does several things marvelously in this debut novel. She has created compelling characters, including Amani herself who is brave and willing to take immense risks for those she loves. Even Princess Maram becomes more complex as the book continues. The prince that Maram is betrothed too is also richly drawn, particularly as he and Amani become more closely acquainted. She has also created a richly built world that draws from Middle Eastern culture. It is a unique and compelling vision of the future that hearkens back to traditional tales in a fascinating way.

Given that this is a debut book, readers should expect some beginner issues. There is a lot of telling and not showing in the writing. I also struggled as Amani started to become friends with her oppressors, even though she is also given a way forward as a spy and mole, someone who could work aggressively to take down those who are hurting her family and her planet. I am hoping that in the next book in the series, there will be less warmth for the oppressors and more for the rebels fighting back.

This is a science fiction book for teens worth reading thanks to its unique setting and strong characters. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (9781250178138)

An amazing graphic novel for teens, this book offers romance, space travel, and boarding schools all in one incredible package. It is the story of Mia, a girl who doesn’t have a lot of friends at the boarding school she attends. But one girl catches her attention, Grace, a new girl who needs help figuring out how to make her way at the school. Soon the two girls are a couple, but Grace has a secret that she refuses to share with Mia until suddenly Grace is gone. Now Mia works in space repairing buildings with a small team. She gets close with the others until she finally reveals why she joined the crew.

Walden is the author of Spinning, which was an impressive graphic memoir about coming out. Here, she weaves a complex tale in a universe entirely her own. The universe she has created is populated entirely by women, something that is slowly realized by the reader rather than being specifically mentioned or explained. The result is an LGBT universe that includes a very special depiction of a transgender character as well.

The art here is simply amazing. The universe unfolds on the pages, done in a limited color palette but incorporating dreamlike moments, staggering rock formations, crumbling abandoned buildings and fish-like space craft. It is entirely Walden’s creation, unique and unlike anything else.

An impressive graphic novel both for its content and its art. This one is unique and incredibly beautiful. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

GoodReads Choice Awards – Teen Nominees

The voting has opened for the opening round of the 10th Annual GoodReads Choice Awards. There are two categories that are specifically for young adult books. I must admit that I’m baffled by some of the book included since I think there are other amazing books not on the lists. Here are the nominees in those categories:


All the Little Lights The Astonishing Color of After

All the Little Lights by Jamie McGuire

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

The Case for Jamie (Charlotte Holmes #3) The Cheerleaders

The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

Emergency Contact Leah on the Offbeat (Creekwood, #2)

Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Let's Talk About Love Love, Hate & Other Filters

Let’s Talk about Love by Claire Kann

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Life, and the List Puddin' (Dumplin', #2)

Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West

Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

Sadie Save the Date

Sadie by Courtney Summers

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Starry Eyes Truly Devious (Truly Devious, #1)

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Tyler Johnson Was Here

Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles



The Belles (The Belles #1) Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3.1) The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1) The Fates Divide (Carve the Mark, #2)

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

The Fates Divide by Veronica Roth

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, #7) Lifel1k3 (Lifelike, #1)

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff

Obsidio (The Illuminae Files, #3) A Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes, #3)

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir

Restore Me (Shatter Me, #4) Sky in the Deep

Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2) War Storm (Red Queen, #4)

Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

War Storm by Victoria Aveyard

Wildcard (Warcross, #2)

Wildcard by Marie Lu

Review: Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)

The author of the wildly popular Lunch Lady series has now created a graphic memoir of his childhood. Raised by his colorful grandparents, Jarrett grew up not understanding why he couldn’t see his mother more often. It turned out that she was in jail or recovery centers dealing with the consequences of her addiction. Jarrett didn’t even meet his father until his teens. Jarrett told only one friend when he found out that his mother was an addict, trying to keep the veneer of normalcy in place. He even tried to keep his grandparents from attending school events for the same reason. As Jarrett grew older and became focused on being an artist, he discovered who his father was and that he had two half-siblings. Soon his unusual family grew another branch.

The story here is personal and painful. It is a tale that so many children will relate to, that will show them how success can blossom from pain and how art can help to express that which can’t be said aloud. It is a brave book, one that tells tragic pieces of his life, and yet a hopeful one as well with the humor of his grandparents and the relationships Jarrett has and had with his extended family.

This graphic novel is quite simply gorgeous. It uses a color palette that is refined and limited, combining gray with a subtle orange. The entire feel of the art has a more clouded feel and less crisp lines than his previous work, creating a work that exudes memories and the not-so-distant past.

Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Graphix.

Review: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold

Damsel by Elana K. Arnold (9780062742346)

For generations stretching back into time, when the king dies, the prince must head into the wilderness and slay a dragon. He will then rescue the damsel and return home to wed her. Emory succeeds in slaying his dragon and returns home with Ama, the damsel that he has named and saved. Ama remembers nothing about being the dragon’s captive, and slowly learns about the ways of the patriarchal society she finds herself in. She is expected to quickly become interested in dresses and weddings, to spend time indoors and to be quiet and compliant. But Ama has a few lingering memories that surface and retreat. She has a pet lynx that she refuses to give up. And she has no desire to be Emory’s bride or subject herself to his abuses. But what power could a damsel possibly have in this position, given that her rescuer is also the man determined to subjugate her at every turn?

This is one of those YA books that will get people angry. It is one that will turn off entire groups of readers because of triggers like rape and molestation. But it is also a brilliant feminist take on fairy tales and our modern society. It is about power and submission, about risks and compliance, about submission and refusal. The book takes all of the tropes of being a newly-discovered princess and turns them on their head. It looks at the gorgeous gowns, comfortable castle, wealth and prestige. And then it asks dark questions about what is being given up.

Arnold’s writing is lush and gorgeous. Ama is a character who is immensely frustrating. She submits so quickly and complains to little, having just a few things that are dear to her and giving up so much. Readers will find her impossible and yet there is something about her, a snared animal, that makes it difficult to look away. One simply must know the real truth of the book and whether Ama will eventually give in.

A powerful read that will be enjoyed by young feminists looking for a dark read. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

Review: Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner (9781481495561)

AJ just doesn’t feel like he fits in with his two best friends anymore. They are always daring each other to do things and have fantastic lives where they take big risks and brag about them. In contrast, AJ feels short and dull. But then he decides to take a big risk and start talking to a girl he’s had a crush on for years. He’s just not sure how to get Nia’s attention. He knows she is way into vampire novels, so he starts to read them too. Perhaps all it will take is some fake blood around the gums to get her to notice him. However, when Nia does notice AJ, she thinks he’s a real vampire and she has dedicated her life to slaying them. What none of them can see though is that there is a real vampire in their midst! Something they might figure out too late.

This graphic novel for teens and pre-teens is just right for both Twilight fans and Twilight haters. Getting it into the hands of Buffy fans would also be a great choice. Gardner wisely plays on the tropes of vampire novels, using similar character names and book titles. Throughout there is a sense that the reader is in on the broader joke of it all, something that is entirely charming.

Readers will figure out that there is a real vampire long before the characters do and Gardner then lets that play out delightfully. There is no attempt to conceal it, either through the storyline or the art work. And the art work is excellent, offering large panels in a colorful vampire-filled world. It has a cartoon feel to it that makes it approachable and then the humor completes it nicely.

A great pick for fans and haters alike, this one would make a great graphic novel to book talk to middle-schoolers and teens. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.